This seminar will explore the history and philosophy of prison with particular reference to the role of literature and art in rehabilitation and decarceration. We will study plays, poetry, and performances that depict incarceration, as well as works written and developed by incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals. We will discuss the efficacy of prison arts programming and explore themes of justice, racism, and identity as they relate to incarceration across a diverse set of texts from sociology, performance studies, autobiography, and psychology. Authors include Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Anna Deavere Smith, Michel Foucault, Suzan-Lori Parks, Samuel Beckett, Rena Fraden, Naomi Wallace, George Jackson, and others.
Instructor: Marc Shell Day & Time: TBD | Location: TBD
How has literature influenced the rhetoric and philosophy of disability? This seminar considers literary and cinematic works that focus on the body (deafness, blindness, and paralysis), the mind (madness and trauma), and language (muteness, stuttering, and dyslexia). Special attention to the disabling and enabling aftermaths of pandemics and to the effects of modern prostheses. Readings include chapters from the King James Bible and works by Brecht, Hitchcock, Keller, Martineau, Milton, Morrison, Shakespeare, Shaw, and Trumbo.
What is the status of memory in contemporary Asian American literature? We explore how remembrance and forgetting, both individual and collective, help constitute panethnic Asian America as an imagined community. What conflicts of memory are inherited from legacies of war, exclusion, and migration? How does memory inform responses to present injustices and the ways people narrate the past and imagine the future? Other topics: form; affect; multimedia memory; memory as work or labor; mourning and history; memorialization and monuments. Novels, short stories, graphic narratives, and poetry may include works by: Cathy Park Hong, Jhumpa Lahiri, Aimee Phan, Yiyun Li, Ocean Vuong, Mira Jacob, Gene Leung, Mohsin Hamid, Viet Thanh Nguyen, among others.
This seminar looks at the expanding range of genres, forms and strategies pursued by modern and contemporary authors who want to represent LGBTQ+- lives, communities, bodies and selves; poems and performances, novels and stories, YA (young adult) fiction and science fiction, memoirs and graphic novels, will all be represented, along with a light frame of what's usually called queer theory and some points of comparison, or contrast, from earlier centuries. Bechdel, Audre Lorde, O'Hara, Whitman, Walden, and many others.
This course introduces students to the poetry, literary prose, and artful correspondence of one of the major poets of the twentieth century, considering her innovations in all these genres. We will look at her writing in multiple genres alongside the mid-century shift from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ verse forms, and relate stylistic issues to the intellectual and social changes, and political and historical developments of the period. Bishop’s critique of received ideas about nationality, race, power, gender, sexual orientation, and the overlap between culture and nature, is connected with her status as a cosmopolitan poet with links to Canada, the U.S. and Brazil. ‘Others’ refers both to how her writing comes to terms with the (sociopolitical) reality of other people, and to the comparisons we’ll draw between her writing and that of other poets.
When Aldwyn Roberts, famed Trinidadian calypsonian “Lord Kitchener,” landed in England, he commemorated the event by singing “London Is the Place for Me,” a song celebrating the beauty and hospitality of his “Mother Country.” Roberts was a passenger onthe ship Empire Windrush, whose 1948 arrival from the West Indies signaled a new era of migration to the UK from its colonies, many of which would gain independence over the next fifty years. But was Britain the place for them? As many discovered, making a home there was a fraught process, fueled by long-existing structures of racial prejudice that continue and evolve to this day.
This course explores the cultural politics of British identity after 1945: a period whose social and political upheavals both radically redefine and conservatively re-entrench “British” as a category of analysis. From the 1958 Notting Hill race riots to current-day Brexit, national belonging has always been a complex and contested process, one that fuels myriad forms of desire and alienation. During our time together, we will ask: how do artists and theorists engage with problems of inequality, histories of empire and migration, politics of race, sexuality, and class, and practices of community-building? How do they respond to these aspects of modern social life, as well as re-imagine what that sociality might look like? We will approach these questions by focusing on Black and Asian British literatures—including works by authors Buchi Emecheta, Bernadine Evaristo, Jackie Kay, Hanif Kureishi, Andrea Levy, Daljit Nagra, Caryl Phillips, Salman Rushdie, Sam Selvon, Kamila Shamsie, Warsan Shire, and Zadie Smith—as well as selections from the fields of postcolonial, feminist, and cultural studies.
Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union, both campaigned against toxic exposures in the mid-20th-century United States and yet are rarely considered in tandem. This course puts the writings and activism of these two women in conversation, ranging through feminist, queer, and Latinx environmental writing to build connections between environmentalism and labor rights. Our study focuses on the craft of environmental nonfiction writing, examining contemporary practitioners working in the vein of Carson and Huerta. Students will also compose environmental nonfiction, employing the literary techniques analyzed in this course to craft a narrative addressing exposure, toxins, or the state of public health.
This course examines recent scripted theater by American playwrights. Readings focus on work by historically underrepresented writers, including the wave of award-winning plays by Black writers such as Jackie Sibblies Drury, Michael R. Jackson, Aleshea Harris, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Jeremy O. Harris, and others. We will consider the shape of the American theater, its response and resistance to contemporary social and political movements, and the pandemic's effects on the present and future of American theater.
A look at the complex ways in which writers represent their characters' thought in texts by Austen, Flaubert, James, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Giovanni Verga, and Woolf. More broadly, traces the development of stream-of-consciousness, from Austen's incipient mastery of free indirect style, through Flaubert's more sophisticated use of it, to Woolf's full-blown inner monologues, seeing this development as not merely a fact of English and American literature, but as a phenomenon of world literature and an element of our modernity.
How do fiction and technology's intersections fuel modes of speculation: the imagining of how things in the world could be? We investigate how different imaginative works question and reinvent our relationships to technology; inspire reflection and action; and ask what alternatives exist to practices that appear inevitable or structures that seem entrenched. Fiction allows us to explore how the design and impact of ubiquitous surveillance, data collection, and artificial intelligence reinforce tacit ideas about power, identity, ethics, labor, and the nature of reality itself. We read short stories, essays, TV episodes, graphic narratives, digital media, datasets, and journalism, in addition to perspectives from studies of design, human-computer interaction, and society and technology. Ursula LeGuin, Ken Liu, N.K. Jemisin, Ted Chiang, Black Mirror, Octavia Butler, Kelly Link, among others. We aim to gain insight into technical processes and cultural narratives, developing our own critical models and projects for speculation.
Five Shakespearean Pieces: The seminar will focus on five plays (Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Henry V, The Tempest, and Merchant of Venice) with special attention to staging, literariness, and location.
Like any other plays, those by William Shakespeare pose serious challenges for actors, directors, designers, and audiences, problems they must solve in performance. Because Shakespeare’s plays have such a long history in the theater, they offer a unique window into ever-evolving performance aesthetics. In staging Shakespeare, artists always attempt to capture what they perceive as Shakespeare’s universal achievements and to amplify his work’s resonance for a contemporary audience. This seminar examines a history of Shakespeare in the English-speaking theater to illuminate how Shakespeare helps to shape theater and how the theater helps to make Shakespeare. We will read a number of Shakespeare’s works, but will attend not to literary interpretations of the texts, but rather to (a) the problems those texts create in performance and (b) how artists have solved those challenges over the past four centuries. In other words, we will explore both prior approaches to staging Shakespeare and what in Shakespeare’s plays makes them particularly difficult—and exciting—to stage.
Juliet, Rosalind, Portia, Ophelia, Isabella, Cressida, Cleopatra, Cordelia, Imogen, Volumnia, Lady Macbeth—the women of Shakespeare’s plays have become iconic figures, cited, admired, critiqued, and invoked in every generation. But in the English public theater of Shakespeare’s time no women were permitted to appear onstage. All these famous roles were played by boy actors; Shakespeare wrote their words and their stories—parts so often celebrated for their truth to nature-- knowing they would be performed by young men. In the cross-dressing plays, in which the heroine disguised herself as a boy, the boy actor would then be playing a girl playing the part of a boy. When actresses began to perform in Shakespeare’s plays, at the end of the seventeenth century, they immediately began to make the roles their own, and productions of Shakespeare were dominated, over the years, by female stars. In the mid-twentieth century feminist critics and theorists drew renewed attention to women and gender in Shakespeare, producing a rich and diverse set of books and articles, many now regarded as classic. And in what might have been anticipated as a telling reversal, contemporary directors and performers have staged productions in which major male roles, like King Lear and Prospero, are played by women.
The seminar will read and discuss a number of Shakespeare’s plays, together with criticism, theory, and stage history, to see how women—characters, actors, critics, audiences—have shaped our understanding of Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare has influenced ideas about women, both over the years and in the present day.
Narrative Negotiations explores narrative “voice” in a wide range of literary and cultural texts. Narrative voice is a lively dialogue between the author and the reader as they engage in the experience of determining the value and veracity of the narrative: whose story is it anyway? The writer creates the imaginative universe of character, plot, emotions and ideas—she seems to be holding all the cards; but it is the reader who rolls the dice as she draws on her human experience and moral values to question the principles and priorities of the storyteller. The game of narrative becomes deadly serious when storytelling confronts issues of colonialism, slavery, racial profiling and gender discrimination. Is the right to narrative restricted to those who have suffered the injustices of exclusion? What is my responsibility as a storyteller—or a reader—if I am a witness to violence, or an advocate against injustice, but my life-story is one of privilege, protection and security? What is the role of the politics of identity or cultural appropriation in determining whose story is it anyway? Throughout the seminar students will be encouraged to draw on their own histories, memories and literary experiences as the enter into the world of the prescribed readings. For the final assessment I hope students will choose critical and creative ways of telling their own stories, or the stories of others who have captured their imaginations. Seminar participants will be required to come to each class with two questions that pose issues or problems based on the texts that are important for them, and may prove to be significant for their colleagues. I will invite members of the group to pose their questions and start a discussion. ... Read more about Freshman Seminar 63n. Narrative Negotiations: How do Readers and Writers Decide on What are the Most Important Voices and Values Represented in a Narrative?
Is the complexity, the imperfection, the difficulty of interpretation, the unresolved meaning found in certain great and lasting works of literary art a result of technical experimentation? Or is the source of this extreme complexity psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual? Does it result from limits within language, or from language's fit to thought and perception? Do the inherited forms found in literature permit only certain variations within experience to reach lucidity? Is there a distinction in literature between what can be said and what can be read? The members of the seminar will investigate the limits literature faces in giving an account of mind, everyday experience, thought, memory, full character, and situation in time. The seminar will make use of a classic case of difficulty, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and a modern work of unusual complexity and resistance to both interpretation and to simple comfortable reading, Joyce's Ulysses. Reading in exhaustive depth these two works will suggest the range of meanings for terms like complexity, resistance, openness of meaning, and experimentation within form.
How has the American judicial system dealt with racial discrimination, racial segregation, racial exclusion, and systemic or institutional racism? Has the design of the American legal system made it easier or harder to remedy cases of racial inequality and injustice? What should we expect from the courts in the future?
We study cases involving Americans of African and of Asian ancestry, beginning with Dred Scott and ending with the Harvard College admissions case. Visitors include Drew Faust, Mae Ngai, Richard Pildes, and William Lee and Felicia Ellsworth, the trial lawyers in the Harvard College case.
The primary readings are legal documents: the Constitution, judicial opinions, and the statutes judges interpret. We’ll analyze the opinions in order to understand the legal logic that led to their outcomes. We will see, by doing this, how courts are constrained by the system that was designed by the Constitution’s framers and by the traditions of the common law. We will also consider the historical context in which these cases were decided. Two papers and class participation required.
What is boredom? In many ways, it has likely never been more deeply felt, culturally contentious, and all-consuming than it is right now. But this feeling has a long and rich history in literature, drama, philosophy, and science. This interdisciplinary seminar will explore plays and novels by authors like Baudelaire, Beckett, Chekhov, Flaubert, Huysmans, Wallace, Warhol, and Wilson, as well as theoretical readings, psychological studies, performance art, and reality television. We will ask: how is the emotion of boredom destructive and/or generative? How might its effects and moral resonance change across lines of gender, race, and class? How does boredom transform or become magnified in spaces like schools, theaters, trench warfare, arctic winter, or solitary confinement? Assignments and projects may include papers, creative writing, music and dance, and/or social experiments.
What makes “Great Criticism?” Analytic clarity? A surfeit of objectivity? Dedication to art and artists? Or is great criticism more like great art, relying on a strong point of view and deep personal investment? This course tests the latter view, by treating works of criticism as dramatic monologues to be analyzed, invested with desire, and performed. We will use techniques of script analysis to pay closer attention to how arguments are constructed, and acting techniques to listen closely for the ways that criticism is always, to quote Nietzsche, “the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography.” This course will range through the history of English criticism from Philip Sidney to Zadie Smith. Students will also learn basic techniques of script analysis, acting, and public speech, and apply these techniques to works of criticism, culminating in a final recorded performance of an essay-as-monologue.
A wide-ranging close reading of poetry and song from four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Poetry not in English will be translated but students with competence in Asian and African languages, ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew), modern European languages--French, Italian, German, Spanish, et al.--are welcome to work in those languages. The course is partly a survey of lyrical poetry and partly an opportunity to work on individual projects.